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Starting and Maintaining a Freshwater Fish Tank

Step 1 - Deciding what fish to keep

The biggest aspect of your fish tank is what fish you are going to keep. Different types of fish will require different filtration, temperature, tank décor, and food. It is important to keep that in mind when starting a tank. A community tank, or a tank with a range of compatible species, is often the best choice for beginners. Educate yourself on the different requirements of fish, including their aggression levels so you do not lose fish.

Step 2 - Choosing your aquarium

It is now time to choose an aquarium. Remember that the larger the aquarium the easiest it is to maintain. A good rule of thumb when choosing a tank size is one gallon of water for every one inch of fish. So if you have a 5 gallon tank you could have a 5 inch fish, or 5 fish that are 1 inch in length.

Step 3 - Where to put your tank?

Choosing where to put your freshwater fish tank can be a tough task. You must make sure that it is in a safe place, where there is minimal chance of the glass being broken, or the tank tipping over. Usually the tank is best up against a wall. Another thing to remember when placing a tank is to keep it away from natural sunlight. Keeping a tank near a window where natural sunlight comes through will promote a tremendous amount of algae in your tank, making you water cloudy and your fish unhappy.

Step 4 - Selecting freshwater tank décor

The most important part of décor is your tank substrate. There are many options, but you should choose the option that best suits the fish you intend to keep. Sand substrates can be a little more difficult to care for, because sand can get into the filters and damage internal parts.

Plants and rocks are the next step in choosing décor. Plants come in both live and plastic form. Both add a tremendous amount of color to the freshwater aquarium. Live plants help oxygenate the water by serving as a natural filter. However live plants are harder to care for because they require a certain amount of light per day, and many types of fish will eat live plants. Plastic plants make a good addition to the aquarium, but they may break down after time.

Rocks keep fish happy by providing them with a place to hide, as well as a platform to lay eggs on. You can find rocks to add into your aquarium almost anywhere, but if you are taking them from a natural stream you should boil them before adding them into your aquarium. This will kill off any bacteria that may be harmful to your fish. When introducing rocks to your aquarium you must make sure that they sit sturdy in the gravel. This is especially important if you are stacking rocks. Keep an eye on your rocks, especially if you are keeping fish that like to dig. This could lead to the rocks collapsing and damaging your tank.

Whatever you choose to add in your freshwater aquarium, just make sure you leave enough swimming room for your fish. Remember your fish will be healthy and happy if you choose your décor around their needs.

Step 5 - Filtration

Selecting what filters to use should again be focused on which fish you intend to keep. For example, carnivorous fish require a much stronger filtration system then most other fish. The capacity of the filter is dependant on how big of a freshwater tank you have. You can never over-filter an aquarium, so it is better to over do it then to under do it. Do you research, that is the only way to determine what is best for you.

Step 6 - Tank Assembly

Now the fun begins. Place the stand in a safe sturdy location. Put the tank on top of the stand making sure it is correctly balanced and level at the top. If you are going to use a background on your tank, now is the time. Make sure to tape it onto the back as best as possible, because once the tank is up and running it will be hard to make changes.

Step 7 - Adding décor

First step in adding décor is the substrate. Add the substrate slowly and carefully to avoid scratching the tank. Once the substrate has been added, you can now add plants and rocks accordingly. Make sure your fish will have enough swimming room.

Step 8 - Equipment Setup

Now that the substrate and other decorations are set, it is now time to set up your heater and filters. A fully submersible heater is usually the best option that will stick on the tank using suction cups. Whichever filter type you are using, now is the best time to get them in place. You should not turn on any equipment until the water has been added. Follow the instructions for your equipment to insure that they are set up correctly.

Step 9 - Adding water

Now that the décor is in place, and the equipment has been set up (But not yet turned on), it is time to add water. The best way to add water is to have a bowl face up inside the tank, and letting the water overflow out of the bowl inside the tank. This will prevent your substrate from being upset and allow an easy transition of the water into your tank.
Once your tank is full you must now add the chemicals that will take out the chlorine, nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia out of the water. You can find these chemicals at you local fish store. Add the chemicals appropriately as it will take some time before your water is ready to have fish in it.

Step 10 - Turn on equipment

Now that the tank is filled, and the décor is in place, it is time to turn the equipment on. Make sure to follow instructions listed for each piece of equipment to avoid damaging parts. NOTE - Most submersible heaters require a waiting period before you can turn them on if they are in cold water. This is usually an hour or so. Check the instructions to make sure you do not break the heater.

Once the heater has adjusted you can turn it on. In most cases if you leave the heater on overnight, the temperature will be perfect the next day. Make sure that the filters are functioning correctly, and check everywhere for possible leaks. Apply the tops correctly, and turn on your lighting.

The tank must not be populated for a minimum of 2 weeks. The filters must be allowed to run through a full bacteria cycle. If you add fish prior to the recommended minimum, you run the risk of losing all of your fish.

Step 11 - Introducing fish

After your tank has be up and running for a minimum of two weeks, it is time for the final checklist. Make sure that the temperature of the water is in the range required for your fish, and test the water parameters. Test kits are available at your local fish store, or most likely they can test your water there for you.

Once your water has checked out okay, and the temperature is good, it is finally time to add fish. Be conservative adding a lot of fish quickly as it will cause a spike in the nitrates in your water. When you buy a fish let the bag float in your tank water for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the fish to adjust to the different temperature. After 15 minutes remove the fish from the bag and let him go!

Congratulations you now have fish in your tank!!!

Maintenance Schedule

It is recommended that you make 35% (it varies) water changes weekly. The substrate should be vacuumed once a week as well. The water you replace it with should be cleansed of chlorine and nitrates. Many fish stores offer Reverse Osmosis Machines, which slowly extract all impurities from tap water. You can keep a clean trash can full of RO water, and add some of this clean water to your tank weekly.

This along with temperature checks will ensure that your fish are healthy and happy!!!
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